Morton case shines light on Williamson County criminal justice system

Posted in Criminal Justice, District Attorney, Williamson County at 10:31 am by wcnews

After fighting for five years against the release of evidence for testing, Mr. Bradley agreed in a joint filing with Mr. Morton’s attorneys that he should be released immediately.

Defense attorneys rejoiced at the victory.“You should never oppose DNA testing,” [Michael Morton's] defense attorney John Raley said. “It can only reveal the truth.” [LINK]

The Michael Morton case truly seems like something seen on a TV show, a tale of fiction, that we like to think doesn’t happen in America, much less in our own backyard. But as DNA testing and the hard working people at the Innocence Project show it happens all too often, and no place is free from it. To be fair law enforcement and prosecutors are overworked, under staffed, and underpaid, and are under pressure to solve brutal murder cases quickly. But that is still no excuse for hiding evidence from defense counsel and railroading someone to jail.

There are many reasons why Ken Anderson and Mike Davis need to be investigated for prosecutorial misconduct, but we also need to wonder why those we elect are so fervent against having prior convictions looked at when new evidence, or new science, allows for it. Here’s a KXAN report from February 10, 2010 about which includes comments from Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley.

Tip to The Wilco Watchdog for the video, Battle of the Johns: John Raley 6 John Bradley 1.

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, though he long opposed DNA testing of the bandana which eventually exonerated Morton, agreed with Morton’s release because he really had no other choice. A mountain of evidence, including DNA from an Austin murder case indicating that the same man—not Michael Morton—may have committed both murders and quite possibly others, put Bradley in the position of having to cut his losses. But now, on the same day that Bradley changed positions on the value of the DNA on the bandana in the Morton case, he also told media that he wants to be involved in any investigation of the original prosecutors (Ken Anderson and Mike Davis) for prosecutorial misconduct, namely the withholding of exculpatory evidence during Morton’s trial in 1985.

This so-called “Battle of the Johns” is not over, even though Raley called “check” today, there is still a “checkmate” that awaits. What Raley meant with his observation that the case is far from over includes several additional issues, not the least of which is an investigation of the arguably bad actors who facilitated this wrongful conviction. The fingers point most significantly toward those original prosecutors—Anderson and Davis— for apparently withholding exculpatory evidence, but the issues don’t stop there. Bradley’s role in fighting the testing of the DNA evidence creates the perception (if not the hard conclusion) that he, of all people, shouldn’t participate in any prosecutorial investigation. His concession in signing the agreement letting Morton out of prison neither explains nor clears up why he so strongly resisted DNA testing of the crucial evidence, a position which delayed the testing for some four years while allowing the true killer to remain at large without being sought and possibly allowing him to commit other crimes.

Any investigation into misconduct by the original prosecutors or anyone else requires an objective, qualified prosecutor who hasn’t been tainted by this case in any way, and who is absolutely above reproach. That “above reproach” criterion includes having a prosecutor who isn’t subject to being investigated and who doesn’t personally know any of the people being investigated. That person must be so independent that no one can allege any personal, political or ideological connections which might taint such an investigation. This special prosecutor investigating prosecutorial misconduct should be a well-respected individual chosen by the U.S. Department of Justice or, if appointed by any Texas judge or judicial tribunal, should be clearly identifiable as independent and trustworthy beyond question. Ken Anderson was Bradley’s mentor and was key in his appointment as District Attorney.


Michael Morton can’t get his wife back, and he can’t get 25 years of his life back, including missing out on his son’s life and the opportunity to pull the threads of his life and relationships back together after his wife’s brutal murder. As Raley more than intimated after today‘s hearing, the unfinished business includes Morton’s total exoneration and a complete and thorough investigation which holds accountable not only those responsible for his wrongful conviction, but finally, the capture and prosecution of the true murderer, who has been on the loose unnecessarily for far too long.

It seems fairly obvious after watching this case unfold that Bradley didn’t want the evidence tested because if it was it could reflect badly on Williamson County. At Grits for Breakfast Bradley’s ideas for post-conviction evidence have been written about several times.

The real murderer might have been identified six years ago if Mr. Bradley hadn’t fought DNA testing tooth and nail. Indeed, as regular Grits readers know, Bradley would likely have preferred DNA evidence had been destroyed outright to avoid exactly this outcome. In a now redacted string on the prosecutors’ user forum (which Grits saved and uploaded here), Bradley advocated seeking DNA destruction as part of plea agreements on the grounds that “Innocence … has proven to trump most anything.” “A better approach,” he said, “might be to get a written agreement that all the evidence can be destroyed after the conviction and sentence. Then, there is nothing to test or retest.” That stance was one of the reasons Texas senators criticized the Williamson DA before rejecting his confirmation this spring as chair of the Forensic Science Commission.

This went on far too long, and Bradley made sure of that. Two more videos from KXAN:

Morton’s release hearing is Tuesday: kxan.com

It’s time for Williamson County to clean up it’s “guilty until proven innocent” image of criminal justice, and that won’t come without new leadership. Those responsible for putting an innocent man went to jail, and keeping him there for so long, must be held accountable. Those still in public office should have their careers in pubic service ended. If not done sooner the voters should certainly reject them all next time they stand for reelection.

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